Books are the third oldest carrier of stories, after cave paintings and oral tradition. There are thousands, probably millions of them, all carrying a sliver of the authors’ souls, possibly a serving of tropes known to be working, and a potential to be adapted to a different medium. There’s no shortage of films based on books. In fact, some of the most famous films in history are based on a literary source material.

But games aren’t far behind, either, and there’re more book-inspired video games than you might think. Some games are straightforward adaptations, others are sequels, or reimaginings, but the inspirations always remain quite clear. Let’s take a look at a sample of…

Video Games based or inspired by books
GameReleaseGenreVideoDeveloperSale
Metro 2033 Redux 2014-08-27 Horror 4A GAMES 85%
Call of Cthulhu 2018-10-30 Adventure Focus Entertainment 34%
Dune: Spice Wars 2022-04-26 Strategy Shiro Games 20%
The Witcher 2008-09-16 RPG CD PROJEKT RED 57%
Cyberpunk 2077 2020-12-10 Action RPG CD PROJEKT RED 57%
Alice Madness Returns 2011-06-14 Adventure Spicy Horse Games 9%
The Sinking City 2019-06-27 Adventure Frogwares 62%
Enslaved Odyssey To The West 2013-10-24 Adventure Ninja Theory 83%
Tom Clancys Rainbow Six Siege 2015-12-01 Action Ubisoft Montreal 64%
Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends 2014-05-13 Fighting KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD. 59%
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 2023-12 Survival Horror GSC Game World
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat 2007-03-20 RPG GSC Game World 76%
Metro Exodus 2020-02-14 Adventure 4A GAMES 89%
Lord Of The Rings War In The North 2011-11-08 Adventure Snowblind Studios
The Witcher 2 Assassins Of Kings 2011-05-17 Adventure CD PROJEKT RED 86%
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt 2015-05-18 RPG CD PROJEKT RED
Tom Clancys Ghost Recon Wildlands 2017-03-06 Adventure Ubisoft Annecy 83%
Conan Exiles 2017-01-30 Adventure Funcom 84%

Dante’s Inferno

Release date:2010-02-10
Genre:Action
Developer:Visceral Games

Why don’t we begin with a reference to the classics? Dante Alighieri wrote his Divine Comedy in the early 1300s, and it’s been a text of culture which influenced a lot about the popular perception of afterlife. It also spawned some game. An obvious one is Devil May Cry series, but on a less famous front, there’s also Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno, a fiery hack’n’slah set in Hell itself.

The game plays with the source material quite a lot. To begin with, Dante is a disgraced crusader, who’s not only literally too angry to die, but also just angry enough to kill Death and steal its scythe. And that’s just the start of a violent, hack’n’slashing trip through the afterlife. It’s not all for glory, however, it’s for love: your beloved Beatrice was kidnapped by Lucifer, and you must rescue her.

Key features
  • Intense hack’n’slash action
  • Loosely based on the Divine Comedy
  • Sadly, console exclusive for PS3 and X360
  • Got an animated film based on the plot

Conan Exiles

Release date:2017-01-30
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Funcom

Conan the Cimmerian is one of the genre legends, dating back to pulp magazines of the 1930s. Over the years the grim-faced outlander has seen anumber of adaptations across multiple media, including several movies, many comics, and, indeed, quite a few games. The biggest and the most elaborate of those is Conan Exiles, a survival game from Funcom.

Conan Exiles

The game starts out strong: you’re a convict set free by Conan, who gives you a second chance at life, assuming you are good enough to claim it. You start the lowest of the low, but with enough crafting, wit, and determination you might build your own fortress, populate it with serf NPCs, and even summon an avatar of your god to crush your enemies and see them driven before you.

Key features
  • Tons of content in the base game, and plenty more in DLCs and expansions
  • A large world to forge your own destiny in
  • Robust crafting system
  • Treats the source material with a lot of respect

Cyberpunk 2077

Release date:2020-12-10
Genre:Action RPG
Developer:CD PROJEKT RED

Unlike other games on the list, Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t based on a novel or a poem. Instead, it’s based on a tabletop role-playing game Cyberpunk, which dates bas to the late 80s, but went through several editions. CD Projekt Red, best known for The Witcher games, have takes to setting further into the future that even the source material does, and told a fascinating story with it.

Cyberpunk 2077

It’s the first look at the famous Night City from this perspective, and CDPR’s urban open-world RPG does a fantastic job adapting the place to a video game format. As V, a newcomer mercenary with a troublesome chip in their head, you’ll tangle with corpos, deal with gangs, and become a fulcrum around a decades-old vendetta of a rebellious cyber-ghost.

Key features
  • Several origins and several endings for the player characters
  • Fascinating main storyline
  • Tons of side quests fleshing out the futuristic city and its people
  • Robust progression systems through gear and ability upgrades

Dune: Spice Wars

Release date:2022-04-26
Genre:RTS
Developer:Shiro Games

Frank Herbert’s Dune is something of a foundational science fiction writing, and its legacy cannot be overstated. Thanks to a new cinematic adaptation, the interest in the franchise is rising, which also gave rise to new video games. One of them is already here, Dune: Spice Wars, still in Early Access at the time of writing, but already gathering very positive reviews.

Dune: Spice Wars

Spide Wars is a 4X strategy game from the creators of Northgard. It strays from the letter of the books to allow a large scale conflict between several factions including, of course, House Harkonnen, House Atreides, and the Fremen. If you’d like to prove that you’d do a better job than Atreides in the canon, this is your chance to do so. It’s a worthy successor to the legendary Dune 2.

Key features
  • A fantastic real-time 4X strategy set on Arrakis, Dune, the desert planet…
  • Five factions
  • 4-person multiplayer
  • Looks amazing

Parasite Eve

Release date:1998-03-29
Genre:Survival horror
Developer:Square Enix

You might have heard of Parasite Eve, a classic RPG from Square, released back in the 90s, with two sequels for good measure. But did you know it is itself a prequel to a science fiction horror novel by Hideaki Sena? The original novel explores the idea that mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cells) are actually pieces of an intelligent life-form with its own agenda for humanity.

The game’s plot kicks off during an opera performance, during which everybody except three people spontaneously combusts. This is just a beginning of a game about weird science, body horror, and dynamic using Square’s Active Time Bar system. This changed completely in the 3rd Birthday, which has a tenuous connection to the prior stories, and uses a third-person shooter gameplay.

Key features
  • A jRPG based on a science fiction horror story
  • Two additional sequels
  • Bizarre story about guided mutation of humanity
  • Dynamic quasi-turn based combat powered by the ATB system known from Final Fantasy

Alice: Madness Returns

Release date:2011-06-14
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Spicy Horse Games

The adventures of a girl called Alice in a fantastical, topsy-turvy Wonderland are a part of a shared culture by now, in big part thanks to Disney’s adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s works. But there is another, darker adaptation, and it came from the mind of American McGee. Over the course of the game you’ll meet many characters you’re familiar with, as they oppose the Queen of Hearts’ ambitions.

Alice: Madness Returns

The dark, brutal nature of Wonderland is a reflection of Alice’s trauma caused by a house fire which killed her parents, and traditional “health” is instead replaced with “sanity” to hammer home that theme. Although it’s clearly inspired by Carroll’s legendary work, it’s by no means a game for kids, puzzles and platforming notwithstanding. The sequel isn’t any more upbeat, either.

Key features
  • Your weapons are toys given new functions through Alice’s imagination
  • The sequel follows an adult Alice, who relapses into Wonderland hallucinations
  • Wonderland is a reflection of Alice’s traumatised psyche
  • Secrets hidden in appropriately bizarre ways

The Sinking City

Release date:2019-06-27
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Frogwares

The Sinking City takes place in Oakmont, Massachusetts during the 1920s, but you wouldn’t find it on any map, the inhabitants prefer it being hard to find. There used to be a small, unremarkable town of Innsmouth nearby, but recently it was mysteriously destroyed and survivors, a gloomy sort, came to live in Oakmont.

The Sinking City

The Sinking City really does wear its inspirations on its sleeve.

Since the story is very much a mystery investigation it would be unseemly to describe its secrets, but the Cthulhu mythos is a defining part of the story, and goes well beyond the big squidface himself, and into areas less memetic. The writing is quite good, and the game certainly has the proper “cosmic horror” atmosphere when it gets down to it.

Key features
  • Steeped in the broader Cthulhu mythos
  • Memorable story
  • Great atmosphere
  • You’re mostly on your own as you solve the mystery

DYNASTY WARRIORS 9 Empires

Release date:2021-12-23
Genre:Action
Developer:KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD

Dynasty Warriors is a very specific kind of game. Each entry features dozens of playable characters, any of which can slay hundreds of enemies during any given battle. But that isn’t necessarily the main draw here — the inspirations for the series’ stories are. It’s all taking place during Tree Kingdoms period of Chinese history, and you get to play as famous generals and officers.

DYNASTY WARRIORS 9 Empires

While the games can be quite over-the-top with each officer’s kill count, or the magic they employ, they usually hit the story bits familiar to those who know Lou Guanzhong’s novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.The collection of characters is massive, ranging from major figures like Cao Cao or Guan Yu, to minor character like concubines and offspring of major actors.

It’s all a touch silly, but always good fun.

Key features
  • You get to play through famous battles from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
  • Many playable characters
  • Few other games let you kill hundreds or thousands of enemies in a single battle
  • The series has a Japan-themed spin-off called Samurai Warriors, and even some anime-themed entries

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Release date:2013-10-24
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Ninja Theory

Sun Wukong, the Monkey King is one of the most famous characters from Chinese culture, drawn from the all-time classic epic called Journey to the West. If you’ve seen Dragon Ball, you know him as Son Goku, but the character has appeared in many media over the years. One of the adaptations is Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which checks quite a few plot points along the way, in a cool, transformative way.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

The game follows a man called Monkey, who’s forced to escort a woman called Trip (Tripitaka) home. He’s, appropriately to the source material, fitted with a cybernetic headband which allows Trip to compel him.

The gameplay mixes environmental puzzles with fast-paced combat, and the post-apocalyptic world is beautiful, full of life and overgrown ruins of and old civilization.

Key features
  • A post-apocalyptic reimagining of the Journey to the West
  • Gameplay emphasises cooperation between Trip and Monkey
  • Beautiful environments
  • Monkey is a very competent fighter, especially when the staff is deployed

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Release date:2011-11-08
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Snowblind Studios

Most Lord of the Rings games released take a lot of inspiration from Peter jackson’s cinematic adaptation. Shadow of Mordor certainly does. However, Lord of the Rings: War in the North feels closer to J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, going as far as to style itself around the often forgotten-about War in the North side story.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

It does it in a very videogame manner, certainly, but there’s a lot to bite into.

LotR:WitN is at its best when it’s played with two friends, because there are three characters to pick: human Ranger Eradan, dwarf warrior Farin, and elf mage Andriel, and you’ll get the most out of every mission when you have a full squad, especially since every character only detects a certain type of secret. Together they must stop the schemes of Agandaur, Sauron’s faithful servant.

Key features
  • The story takes place parallel to the War of the Ring
  • Three playable characters with different areas of expertise
  • The game is at its best in co-op
  • Modest RPG elements

Metro 2033

Release date:2014-08-27
Genre:Horror
Developer:4A GAMES

Dmitry Glukhovsky’s vision on nuclear post-apocalypse as depicted in his Metro 2033 turned out vivid and interesting enough to warrant getting a video game under the same title. And it turned out that the game was a big enough hit to get two sequels and a remake.

Metro 2033

The stories, true to source, mostly take place in the fortified tunnels of Russian underground, a place safe from the post-apocalyptic surface.

All the games are first-person shooters, but the scenery changed substantially in the most recent entry, Metro Exodus. In this game, the main character Artyom and his family leave the tunnels and go on a journey across Russia to a rumoured safe haven.

The Metro games are great companion pieces to Glukhovsky’s book and great spiritual successors to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Key features
  • A compelling vision of post-apocalypse
  • Great adaptations of the source materials
  • Horror elements
  • Claustrophobic atmosphere

Spec Ops: The Line

Release date:2012-06-28
Genre:Action & Shooter
Developer:Yager Development

An officer is lost in a dangerous territory, and you need to find him and take him back to the higher-ups. The basic premise of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is quite simple, but the story is anything but. You may know it from the book, you may know it from Apocalypse Now, or you may face it in an interactive form thanks to Spec Ops: The Line, an appropriately heavy game based on a heavy original story.

Spec Ops: The Line

The game follows captain Martin Walker, sent with his squad on a recon mission to Dubai which was hit by a catastrophe. As their progress, they are forced to make some hard decisions and they make their way to a US officer John Konrad who was stranded in the city after the catastrophe. Much like the source material, the game isn’t pleasant nor lighthearted, but quite worth checking out.

Key features
  • Hard choices to make
  • Very well-realised world
  • Rather dark story
  • Definitely not a typical shooter

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Release date:2010-02-11
Genre:Horror
Developer:GSC Game World

No matter how one would look at it, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. owes a LOT to Strugatskys’ science fiction book Roadside Picnic. Some elements of the story are virtually the same, others slightly changed to better suit the narrative. Even the title of the game itself is taken from a loose adaptation of Strugatskys’ work — Stalker, a movie by Andrei Tarkovsky. That’s not to say S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is fully derivative, of course.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Especially the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was a really fresh, really interesting game, which an engaging story and a world which only fans of Russian science fiction have seen before. With multiple factions to deal with, and several distinct endings to work towards, Shadow of Chernobyl was an obvious hit, and its success is, eventually what allowed the Metro 2033 games to flourish a short time later.

Key features
  • The Chernobyl zone is full of fascinating anomalies
  • The first game has a rare interesting story about amnesia
  • Immersive setting
  • Video game precursor to the Metro games

The Witcher

Release date:2015-05-18
Genre:RPG
Developer:CD PROJEKT RED

CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher series isn’t an adaptation as much as an half-official sequel, because it takes place a few years after the original books concluded. All of it begins when Geralt returns to Kaer Morhen as an amnesiac, thankfully finding some friendly faces he doesn’t recognise right away. Better yet, certain storylines in the games seems lifted straight from the books for extra nostalgia.

The Witcher

Over three games you’re also going to meet many characters you know from the books. A good rule of thumb is that if a character played a major part in a story and aren’t confirmed dead they are likely to appear in some capacity, in one of the games’ many quests and story arcs. CDPR’s games are a great chance to defy the ending written in the books if you’re not ready to let go.

Key features
  • Many familiar characters return
  • Each game shows a different interesting facet of the world from the original books
  • Monsters inspired by European myths and legends
  • Two excellent expansions to the third game

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six

Release date:2015-12-01
Genre:Action
Developer:Ubisoft Montreal

This one is pretty straightforward. Tom Clancy, an author of many espionage- and military-themed novels, created a series called Rainbow Six, focused on the eponymous fictional counter-terrorist team. The first game was developed by Red Storm Entertainment, and subsequent ones were all made by Ubisoft studios, and there’s been quite a few of them since 1998.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six

Most of R6 games were singleplayer affairs, letting you control a team of highly trained operatives on specific scenarios. The 2018 entry in the series, Rainbow Six Siege bucked that trend in a big way – it is an asymmetrical multiplayer game featuring a large roster of specialised operatives split into broad categories of Attackers and Defenders, training together as counter-terrorists.

Key features
  • A series with over twenty years of history
  • Based by the books of a renown military-fiction author
  • Quite realistic in its approach to CT tactics
  • Rainbow Six Siege is a solid asymmetrical multiplayer game

That concludes the list, showing that video games and literature have more in common than it’s immediately obvious.

There are, of course, many more games and licences inspired by books, but this list should tide you over until we refresh it in the future.

The End